Community-Led Development #5: Amplifying the Voice of Communities
What defines a community; geography, identity, or both? And based on the chosen definition, who are the representatives that can speak on behalf of that community?
After the successful previous sessions on Community-Led Development and Human-Centered Design last year, which were organised in collaboration with Butterfly Works, The Hunger Project and the Movement for Community-Led Development, the conversation continued. On October 14th, our fifth Community-Led Development and Human-Centered Design session took place. A session during which we dove into the importance of amplifying the voice of communities. Conclusion: in order to listen to and amplify marginalized voices in communities, it is important to include these voices in conversations and to address existing power imbalances.
Shifting the Power
Regional Director for East Africa of The Hunger Project Dr. Daisy Owomugasho focused on defining a community and Shifting the Power for Community-Led Development.
Communities are based on identity, traditions, and beliefs. Issues with these aspects are embedded within communities. How to define a community and how to become part of it? Distinguishing between INGOs, NGOs, civil society, and other stakeholders involved in the process – can an INGO speak on behalf of a community? And if so, who defines the needs and who grasps the community? Who has access to and can gather accurate information?
Dignity, voice and agency
In order to shift the power, Community-Led Development should start from a local level and should include dignity, voice, and agency as the best way to end poverty. The Movement for Community-Led Development set up local chapters to facilitate national partnerships. Such partnerships promote (respectively) national engagement, mobilisation and Community-Led Development in practice. The result? System change, or system convergence. Country-owned, embedded, locally-led development to enhance dignity and justice for people and the planet.
The second presentation by Heinz Greijn (Partos) covered the need for a joint responsibility of NGOs to amplify voices of marginalised groups within communities (for instance disabled people), who are not always represented by the community leaders. In communities, people can be marginalised, and their voices can be unheard due to a lack of access. This is an indicator that there’s a power imbalance within the community. Finding out what you can do or change to hear these people is as important as analysing the power imbalance in general.
Who represents communities?
After the presentations, participants were challenged to answer questions in smaller groups regarding who represents communities, and about communities that do not group or define themselves as a community. By answering these questions, specific concerns were pointed out by the participants. It can be difficult to point out who exactly are marginalised within groups and communities – how can we find these voices? Besides, even when they are included in conversations, marginalised groups might have a hard time speaking up, due to existing power imbalances within the communities. In order to listen to their voices and amplify them, it is essential to build their confidence, by being aware of systems in the countries one works in.
When listening to these voices, we might get a better grip on the needs and wishes from within communities, including the most neglected people. So far these voices have been underrepresented due to the power imbalances and the dependency on the donor for resources such as money and strength.